Letter: Economic key to Baltic stability

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The Independent Online
Sir: Comment on the outcome of Russia's elections focuses on the potential for politics to overtake economics, and not least the corresponding concern for the future of the Baltic states.

Long before Mikhail Gorbachev, Hungary's Janos Kadar probed the barriers of Comecon, the former Soviet trading bloc, to exploit the potential for linkage with the West. Hungary has adjusted to its new freedom without the impoverishing perils of rapid, high inflation. Despite Communism, Estonia did not escape its cultural affinity with Scandinavia and seems now to be settling into significant economic partnership with Finland and Sweden. Norway is strongly committed economically in Lithuania. But the principal example of the political force of economics is the European Union.

It is almost inconceivable that Western Europe's World War nations should ever fight each other again. Too many of the vested interests, personal and cultural relationships have become supranational. Commitment in the Balkans may reflect the lack of just such connection. It seems evident, therefore, that the best protection for the new states of Europe and particularly those with far from Russian traditions, would be rapid economic assimilation into the EU. Thus would the vested interests arise that politics would seek to protect, albeit with a reluctant new round of deterrence.

Even if the threat to Finland be laughed off, there is fresh imperative for the Scandinavians to embrace in new Baltic brotherhood a collective concept which they are prepared to defend politically, if necessary, through a partial extension of present neutrality. The need is for forward wisdom now. Churchill warned of Hitler in good time to have at least tried to develop the structures offering the best long-term protection of investment and security. 'United we stand, divided we fall'. It has become essential once more to remind ourselves of this maxim.

Yours sincerely,

MERVYN BENFORD

Shutford, Oxfordshire

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